Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cleaning House

I’ve never considered myself a hoarder. My recycling bin is filled every week, my floors are clear of any type of debris, and I have no trouble chucking out things  that I no longer use, whether it be clothes or shoes or household items. I’ve realized, though, that anything to do with writing is another issue. I’ve been trying to keep my office  floor clear but it’s not been as easy as it should be.

Over the years, I’ve read several articles about how important it is for writers not to toss anything they’ve written. The authors were adamant that the prose we’ve had to cut from one book or short story could be useful in another piece down the road. That might be true, but I have file folders of ideas and discarded paragraphs that I haven’t looked at in a long time, and I’m not sure I want to. My imagination is still active, churning out new ideas and words pretty much every day. Would it be so terrible to purge the files and work on something new and definitely more relevant to the genres and themes I’m writing now?

As far as my personal library goes, I bit the bullet and gave away ten boxes of books last summer. It felt good, but I still have a lot of books, so I’m thinking that it might be time to give more away. But here’s the thing that I really have to come to grips with. I have boxes of earlier drafts of my published novels, and I’ve started to ask myself why I am keeping them.

Now, I’ve always edited clean pages with a pencil, and I also edit on the computer screen, then print out a new clean page for the next round of editing. That’s my system and it works for me. But is it also possible that the mantra of not throwing anything out has somehow included all drafts? Saving hard copies might also be throwback to the old days when I wrote on an electric typewriter. Perhaps I just want proof of all the drafts I’ve compiled over the years, which is probably well over a million words by now. My first two mysteries, Taxed to Death and Fatal Encryption, wound up being twelve drafts each. I’ve gone on to publish four more books and two others are in different draft stages. I try not to look at all the boxes sitting on my floor against the wall. Finally, my thinking has shifted to the desire store earlier electronic folders.

Last year, I also realized that there’s more cleaning to be done. I was using an expensive, cumbersome website server. I changed that and now update my  website easily, saving me loads of time and frustration. I stopped wasting time with social media sites that irritated me, and I unsubscribed to dozens of newsletters.

Cleaning house is an ongoing process, but I'm learning just how necessary it is. Once I truly streamline all the stuff sitting in my office, I might even redecorate. Heaven knows it’s long overdue.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On Doing @StoryADayMay

May is Short Story Month, and this is the second year I've participated in Story A Day May.

Last year, I grabbed a prompt from a different place every morning: on-line prompt generators, random lines from books, prompt words from one of the writers' groups I belong to.

This year, I wandered around the house, taking pictures of stuff, then randomly numbered them from 1-31, and I've been taking them in order.

Of the two methods, the photographs are the more difficult. I think it's because I know what the objects are, where they are, where they came from. It's difficult to untether them from actuality and let my imagination play.

The Story A Day website has a prompt every day, and I may very well shoot my hard-headed independence in the butt next year and immerse myself in the community. I think I've proved to myself that I can do it on my own, so I'll feel free to work in company.

It's always fun to write, always exciting to belt something out without planning it to death first, but it's been a bit of a chore this year, possibly because of that extra effort it's taken to see the familiar as something else.

Have you ever participated in an "extreme writing challenge" or done guided freewriting? How did that work for you, if you've done either or both?

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Do You Sell Paperbacks Through Amazon Anymore?

A curious thing happened last week. Amazon sent an order request for one copy of my oldest mystery novel, Taxed to Death. It was the first print order in two years. Given that I published the book nearly two decades ago, I’ve done zero promotion for this book in recent years. Working on the Casey Holland series with my current publisher takes up all the time I have. So, even though the book isn’t an e-book (that’s another story), I was surprised to see the order. It was also funny to see my ranking drop from about 5 million, to 700,000 with one sale, but that also is another issue. Anyhow, this out-of-the-blue order got me thinking, why now? It’s possible that someone came across the title during tax season, and wanted to read something more fun than income tax guidelines. Who knows?

When the sequel to Fatal Encryption was released in 2008, I got involved with social media and took part in a number of Amazon forums for independently published authors. My posts resulted in a few paperback sales for both titles. But then the e-book revolution took hold. To no surprise, paperback copies of my books stopped selling. By 2011, I’d left the Amazon forums to focus on the Casey Holland series. Writing and publishing one book a year has left little time for social networking.

Yesterday, I checked the rankings of all five of my titles and found that the paperback versions of the second two Casey Holland mysteries have never sold on Amazon. But since I’m a Canadian author with a Canadian story, the book does sell through Canadian stores and Kobo, so I’m not complaining. Like most people, I’m buying a lot fewer paperbacks than I used to. Also, it costs me quite a bit to mail a book from Canada to Amazon’s warehouse. Since Amazon expects a 55% discount, I’m actually losing money with sales. So, you see why I’m not complaining? They also want me to keep at least one copy of my books in their warehouse, otherwise they’ll list the book as out of print. You may ask, why not go out of print where Amazon is concerned? Well, I’m planning to add more self-published titles in the future, and some of them may involve the further exploits of young intrepid tax auditor, Alex Bellamy.

I’ve read occasional posts on other forums about dwindling paperback sales, so I’m curious about the sales of other authors, especially those from Americans who either publish independently or with smaller publishing houses. Have your paperback sales noticeably dwindled over the past five years? Do you notice a bump in sales if you start promoting your paperbacks?

A few months ago, I blogged about a survey which revealed that about 70% of all books sold are paperbacks, however I’m not sure if this applies to mysteries. As for paperbacks in general, do you think most paperback sales are generated from the titles of well known authors? Let’s discuss.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How Social Media Helps, and Hurts

A number of years ago, probably after I released my first mystery title, Taxed to Death, I read a piece of advice somewhere that said never respond to a negative review. It was good advice that I’ve followed all these years. I’ve watched famous authors respond to negative reviews and it never ends well. Reputations are tarnished and the scathing comments seem to multiply.

Recently, a company called Mediabridge decided to do more than post a scathing reply to a negative review of their router. According to a piece in arstechnica, they sent a letter to the reviewer threatening to sue him after they discovered that his comment had become Amazon’s #1 most helpful response. The company claimed that the review had cost them money and tarnished their reputation. They also claimed that the reviewer intentionally set out to discredit, damage, defame, and liable Mediabridge.

The reviewer posted the letter and asked readers for any financial assistance they could manage to help with his legal costs. The letter launched a social media brouhaha. The responses were overwhelmingly supportive of the reviewer’s right to say what he thinks and not be bullied by the corporate world.

Two things happened out of this. One is that Amazon revoked Mediabridge’s right to sell products on their site and two, Mediabridge’s Facebook page was inundated with so many nasty comments that the company has now deleted its entire Facebook presence. They said that the whole incident has been distorted and blown out of proportion. They also added that the loss of revenue will likely cost employees their jobs.

So, here’s the thing. Whether the reviewer was accurate in his assessment of the router, or whether the company was correct in their assessment, a lot of damage has been done. I know we in Canada and the U.S. live in societies where freed of speech is honored, but think about it; wouldn’t Mediabridge be better off right now if they had just kept quiet? Like I said, negative responses never end well.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Are Conferences Losing Attendees?

I used to be a fairly regular attendee at mystery writing conferences. As just about all of them were out of town, I incorporated a short vacation with most and got to see Anchorage, the big island of Hawaii, and Las Vegas. Of course, these events all cost big bucks, so I had to stop attending. After the 2008 economic crash, I noticed that a few conferences had folded. Two in Canada have or soon will close their doors this year. I don't know all of the reasons, but I do have a few observations about the conferences that I’ve attended over the years.

First, most of the conferences were fan-based events attended by readers who were there to meet authors and, in particular, have their books signed by the famous ones. The large Bouchercon always attracted its share of famous mystery authors, however, at smaller conferences it often felt that there were as many authors as attendees. Those of us on the bottom rung of the fame ladder barely sold a handful of books and paid our own way to the conferences. Sure, the networking opportunity was great, but as a business decision (and for me writing is very much a business) it was a disastrous financial move.

Aside from finances, another reason I stopped going was that some of the conferences refused to allow self-published authors participate on panels. At the time, I was a self-published author and to this day I still feel it was a stupid decision. These same organizers were more than happy to take the money of self-published authors to attend, yet the authors weren’t even allowed to sell their books in the dealers’ room unless one of the booksellers would take their books on consignment.

While it’s true that not all self-published authors behaved professionally and not all self-published writers had enough experience to give others advice, there were plenty who had a long list of writing credentials, and who had experienced traditional publishing as well. By the same token, there were plenty of traditionally published, insecure, ego-driven authors who behaved like idiots. As it turned out, there were also panelists who were outright fakes.

I recently read a piece by Lee Goldberg addressing this topic. Mr. Goldberg is a writer with a long list of writing credits as a novelist and TV script writer. Last year, he found himself on a TV mystery writing panel with one of the fakes. The panelist didn’t know what he was talking about and, after a little research, Mr. Goldberg found that the guy had no writing credentials whatsoever. Yet the fake writer was continually invited to speak at writing conferences by organizers who apparently didn’t have enough common sense to check his credentials. Writers and readers are paying good money to travel half way across the country to learn from some of the best, and they’ve been hoodwinked. Wouldn’t you think twice about attending conferences organized by people who can’t be bothered with a little due diligence?

But here’s one more reason that more conferences might be shutting their doors. Readers like me are changing our book buying habits. Frankly, I’m far less inclined to seek out a famous author for an autographed copy at a conference than I am to stay home and download his or her book on my iPad. So, will we see more conferences close their doors in the future? Possibly. Lord knows, some of them really should pack it in.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Call for Submissions

rangelSecond Wind Publishing is accepting short stories, essays and poetry for its upcoming anthology, Wind Through an Open Door.

All submissions should deal with the question: what happens to us when we pass from this life? Remembrances of lost loved ones, personal experiences, profound recognitions of the afterlife (or its absence)—regardless of religious persuasion—are all welcome.

There is no cost to submit an entry. There is a maximum of 7000 words for essays or short stories. All entries must be submitted no later than June 10, 2014. Those whose work is included in the anthology will receive two contributor copies. Additional copies will be available for purchase, with contributors receiving a 60% discount. Submissions and questions should be sent to

Best of luck to everyone!

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